Today, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) announced that in response to concerns that they raised over the last two months, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has now indicated that it has altered its plan to turn the only secure facility for women in the Northeast, the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) at Danbury, Connecticut, into a facility for men. BOP now intends to construct a new facility for female inmates that will be located near the FCI and maintain a satellite camp for women close by as well.
"This is excellent news for the children and families of inmates in the Northeast, and we applaud the Bureau of Prisons for hearing our concerns and making this decision," the senators said. "The original plan put forward by BOP to transfer female inmates out of Connecticut would have nearly eliminated federal prison beds for women in the Northeastern United States, dramatically disrupting the lives of these female inmates and the young children they often leave behind. We are pleased that will no longer be the case."
Previously, BOP had announced that it would convert the FCI from a secure facility for women into a men's facility. This conversion would have left one of the most populated regions of the country without a secure facility for women. While BOP still intends to turn the existing secure facility into a men's facility, it now intends to turn the existing minimum security Satellite Camp for women located near the FCI into a low security facility for women. It will also maintain a minimum security camp facility for women near the new FCI by constructing a new building next to the FCI.
Currently, both the FCI and the Satellite Camp at Danbury house only female inmates, and they are the only federal prison facilities in the Northeastern U.S. that house female inmates. These facilities only opened for women in 1994 after an ongoing effort by the National Association of Women Judges and other advocates to pressure BOP to improve its treatment of female prisoners and the lack of housing options for them. Located about 70 miles from New York City, Danbury is within easy transportation access for the families who visit the prisoners, particularly minor children for whom contact with their mothers is especially important. In contrast, the new facility in Aliceville, Alabama, where many of the inmates were slated to go, is a much more remote location and not a similar transportation hub.
In late July, BOP announced that it was converting the FCI at Danbury (but not the satellite camp) into a low security facility for men. Many of the women who would have been displaced would have been moved to FCI Aliceville in Alabama. Senators Murphy, Gillibrand, Leahy, and Blumenthal sent a letter to BOP Director Charles Samuels asking for these scheduled transfers to be suspended while they received additional information about this plan, and BOP halted the transfers. After BOP provided more information to the senators in late September, the senators continued to express concern over the fact that the Northeast would be left without a federal women's prison.
It is expected that the entire transfer and construction process will take about 18 months to complete. BOP plans to move the female U.S. citizen inmates currently housed at the FCI to various locations around the country near their residences after their release. BOP will also move some of the current inmates with upcoming release dates to Residential Reentry Centers, or halfway houses, and others will be moved to the satellite camp. The agency has assured the senators that it is making every effort to keep the U.S. citizen inmates in the Northeast and maintain the same level of programming available by the end of the process. The senators look forward to continuing to work with BOP as the plan is implemented to ensure that all of BOP's goals are met.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an oversight hearing of the Bureau of Prisons this Wednesday, during which Director Charles Samuels will testify. This hearing prompted BOP to make the announcement about Danbury on Friday. The Judiciary Committee and its members, including Chairman Leahy and Blumenthal, will continue to push for the consideration of families as it relates to the housing of inmates.